Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Vaccination Myth

Every time I think the discussion about vaccinating children has fizzled out, it rears its head again. Dragon Dad and I just got back from a walk to our local for morning coffee and the papers. While we were out I read this article by Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Herald about the current situation where we have American anti-vaccination advocate, Dr Sherri Tenpenny, booked to come to Australia on a speaking tour. There has been a vocal response from many in the pro-vaccination sector demanding she be blocked from entry to the country, with a counterpoint saying that Australia's right to free speech says that she should be allowed to come and those who don't want to hear what she says just don't have to go.

Farrelly's discussion revolves not so much about the pros or cons of vaccination, per se, as much as who we, as members of the public, should be able to trust when it comes to the available information about the issue. Well-known medical journal, the Lancet, published a paper in 1998 by Dr Andrew Wakefield that started the MMR-Autism scare and subsequent furore, prompting significant numbers of parents to not vaccinate. That myth has since been solidly debunked, Farrelly citing a 2014 study by University of Sydney Associate Professor Guy Eslick which found 'a consistent ... lack of evidence for an association between autism, autism spectrum disorders and childhood vaccinations', based on a study of 1.25 million children. The Lancet article has since been retracted, with the editors officially saying they 'regret' publication.

The anti-vaccination crew's main argument against childhood vaccinations is mostly based on the potential harm the vaccinations can cause - from allergies to long term serious conditions. As far as I can see, this comes with a (to my way of thinking) willful ignoring of the hazards of NOT vaccinating. As Farrelly says,
But first to the science. There is little doubt that vaccines work, or that anti-vaccination campaigns are largely snake oil.
Take measles. The World Health Organisation announced in March that Australia had eliminated measles, but every year sees a few hundred cases amongst the unvaccinated. 2014 saw outbreaks in every state, with spikes in Queensland, Victoria and WA. Melbourne recorded 56 cases between January and July, the highest since 1999.
Measles doesn't sound serious. Certainly I had it, as a child. Yet one in 20 children with measles will develop pneumonia, says the United States Centre for Disease Prevention, and one in 1000, encephalitis. One or two in a thousand, mostly infants, will die. (Tenpenny, a doctor of osteopathy, puts this figure at three  in ten million).
Or take pertussis (whooping cough). Between 1981 and 2009, rates across the world roughly halved. In Australia, however, they soared – from 170 cases in 1981 to 29,545 in 2009 – prompting Professor  Peter McIntyre, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, to tag Australia "the world capital of pertussis."
My boys are 29 and 23, so come vaccination time for them, it was still early days in the debate. I do remember some rumblings, but not nearly enough for me to even consider NOT vaccinating them. With No.1, we had a few days of a mild temperature and fussiness, but that was about it, as far as reactions go. He then went on to a disgustingly healthy childhood - the most serious thing we really had to deal with was a particularly nasty case of chicken pox (vaccinating for chicken pox wasn't a thing then) when he was four, and for him, the main tragedy of that was that he couldn't have a birthday party...

No.2 was quite different. At 8 weeks, we trotted off to the local baby centre for the first shot. Within a couple of hours at home, I had a baby spiking a humungous temperature, and projectile vomiting the baby panadol I tried to get into him to bring it down. It ran for ten days, and was terrifying - all the more because I'd experienced a febrile convulsion with No.1, and really didn't want to go there again. All the doctor could suggest was sponging him down and feeding him as much as possible to try and prevent him becoming dehydrated. She also suggested that we do the next vaccination at four months in two parts a week apart. The nurse at the baby centre was a bit iffy about that when we went in, but caved when I told her that I'd leave without any vaccination unless she would do it that way. It didn't work. The temperature was marginally lower after the first dose, but not enough to make much difference, given it too ran for about ten days. Back at the doctor's, she said not to do the other half and suggested it was probably the whooping cough component, and to request the third vaccination minus that bit. THAT was fine. But it meant that No.2 was never properly immunised against whooping cough, and with the rise of cases due to lack of immunisation that was a constant worry during childhood. Fortunately, he was never exposed.

However, at six, after passing a monstrous gallstone, he had to have his gallbladder removed - on the ultrasound, it looked like a bag of marbles. The ultrasound also showed that one kidney was significantly smaller than the other one. The paediatric surgeon said that the formation of gallstones in such a young child could be put down to some abnormality that caused stones that formed during extended febrile episodes to not dissolve once he had rehydrated, and that the kidney indicated that those febrile epsiodes could have been due to undiagnosed kidney infections, but, there were also those extreme and lengthy febrile periods post vaccinations. We'll never really know, and he's healthy now. But, if I had my time over, I'd still vaccinate, because that experience was unusual - which may not be the case for thousands of children if infection and complications due to preventable diseases due to lack of immunisation continue to rise...

I would suggest, for the skeptics among us, that a bit of research into the stats in countries where vaccinations AREN'T done would be sensible, as well as looking at the changes in stats in countries where they are, but people have got on what I consider to be a hysteria wagon generated by irresponsible publications and self-styled alternative experts. Harsh? It's the lives of our children we have to consider, and the wider community. Vaccinations work. Only a small percentage of children will have a legitimate allergic reaction. Even then, the potential consequences of NOT vaccinating can be far worse. 

Please, folks, vaccinate.


  1. Good morning... and good work. The part you didn't mention is deafening in its absence. Or perhaps the debate is different in Australia. You make it sound like on one side of the room are 997 medical professionals who favor vaccination, and on the other are three who don't. Here in the States, you have a thousand trained, credentialed medical professionals, a couple of whom oppose vaccination, but all of whom can point to some education or experience, some body of knowledge that has led them to their professional opinions. On the other side of the room you have some famous actor who may have read a first-aid pamphlet at some point, or an outspoken advocate who got her medical degree as a gynecology model in Playboy; and who do you suppose the unwashed masses are going to listen to? Before you can tackle the vaccination problem, you would have to stamp out AWS (Adult Willful Stupidity). That's a syndrome that seems more resistant to a cure than AIDS.

    1. Morning Jack - as always, a pithy comment!! In my experience, it's personalities and the 'natural' end of the public sector who are in the 'cons' group. I've not, personally, encountered doctors against vaccination, although, I'm sure we have our quota here too. What there isn't - for the masses - is clear information that's easily available that shows the stats for infant mortality and disability pre and post vaccination. The information IS available, but you have to look at it. Social media has something to answer to, as well, given the ease of pushing an agenda on various platforms. My Facebook feed abounds with 'cures' for auto-immune diseases, for instance - and there are NONE. That's just based on my own preferences. No doubt, those following baby and child pages will be getting more than should be out there pushing the no vaccination agenda. ANYONE can post this stuff, and anyone and everyone can take it on board, and clearly do. You may be on to something with your AWS theory!